Scalability—from the phone system to other information systems—is often the last thing on an attorney’s mind as they start a small or solo law firm, especially if they haven’t run a business before. It’s easy enough to put systems in place to get the job done for one or two people, but it’s a different ballgame to plan for a growing firm.
For example, a solo starting out might invest in a laptop and some practice management software such as Time Matters or Amicus Attorney, which is enough for them as they get started. But once the firm begins to grow, the attorney must think about multi-user usage, which translates to acquiring additional licenses and establishing shared storage locations (read: SQL Server). As more matters roll in and volume increases, the attorneys need to be able to keep moving without reassessing their infrastructure and making critical mistakes.
Novice business owners, who haven’t considered the impact of growth, are often blind-sided by the complexities of scaling their operations. The smart law firm starts their practice with an idea of what systems will get the job done. The smarter lawyer will setup a practice with an eye towards the future, ensuring cash continues to flow as new people are brought on board.
Luckily for us in 2010, cloud technologies enable firms to scale effortlessly and without expensive up-front overhead. Internet technologies don’t just encompass the obvious, such as time and billing software, legal practice management solutions, blogs, email, or client relationship managers (CRMs). Using such technologies in the cloud allows firms to add users and communicate effectively without purchasing additional hardware or software licenses.
Telephony is a perfect example of how the modern, web-savvy law firm can put together a very inexpensive and scalable phone system for the law firm. I know this subject intimately, as the setup I describe below comes directly from our experience of building a call center to manage Rocket Matter’s sales, support, and training operations.
The first component we have is a hosted PBX system, which provides extensions, call queueing, and our 1-888 number. We use Phone.com, but plenty of other services exist in that market. We configured Phone.com, in turn, to route to our Skype Online numbers, which runs on all of our computers (we use MacBooks and MacBook Pros). A diagram of our setup shows the simplicity:
The image below is a screenshot from Phone.com, illustrating a setup screen for an extension. Note how the user configures the call routing rules for the extension, including roll-over numbers, amount of seconds to ring, and messages to play when on vacation.
Some business owners are uncomfortable with Skype or have encountered bad calls with it, and perhaps we’re an exception, but we’ve experienced excellent call quality overall with the service. We use it constantly, and the quality exceeds our expensive experience with a hardware-based virtual PBX system, where we needed to purchase specially configured phones and headsets (we’re selling these if you want ’em). We employ Skype Manager, which allows a business to manage all Skype accounts together in one place.
Talk about scalability. Whenever we hire a new person, we spin up a Skype account and add an extension to Phone.com. It couldn’t be easier, or less expensive.